People moves: David Knox moves on from Santos

Over the past seven years, David Knox oversaw some major milestones in Santos’ 60-year history.

However his sudden departure from the company’s top job could not have been marred by a more disappointing and anti-climactic circumstances.

Knox stepped down from Managing Director and CEO of Santos last month – a significant casualty in the wake of what was a less-than impressive reporting period for the firm, posting an 82 per cent fall in profits.

The company has since embarked on an assets selloff in an attempt to rein in some of its $9.4 billion debt, replenish cash flow and win back shareholder confidence. The company’s share price has fallen to its lowest point ever in recent weeks.

Knox came into the role at the beginning of 2008 with more than 25 years’ experience in the global oil and gas industry, succeeding John Ellice-Flint who previously held the role for a similar tenure period of eight years.

He was a relative unknown champion of the oil and gas business back then, according to the then-chairman of the board, Stephen Gerlach’s speech to investors on 25 March, 2008.

Mr Gerlach however, applauded Mr Knox’s instatement, saying he will lead the company over the next phase of growth.

Aged in his late forties, Mr Knox was no stranger to the oil and gas business when he arrived at Santos. He had previously held positions with BP in Australia, the United Kingdom and Pakistan, management and engineering roles at ARCO and Shell in the United States, Netherlands, the United Kingdom and Norway.

But that wasn’t all.

Knox held director positions with the Migration Council Australia, the Botanic Gardens and State Herbarium in South Australia, was a council member of the Business Council of Australia and Royal Institute of Australia and chaired the CSIRO’s Energy Strategic Advisory Committee among other titles.

During his seven years with Santos, Knox oversaw the development of the company’s Gladstone LNG project, which reached first gas on train 1 just last month.

He oversaw the signing of 20-year sales agreements for Santos’ PNG LNG facility and welcomed first gas from the company’s offshore Victorian fields and first commercial production of shale gas at its Moomba-191 processing plant in the Cooper Basin.

Santos current chairman, Peter Coates, paid tribute to Knox during last month’s announcement.

He commended Knox for his role in the company’s domestic operations and positioning the firm in the Asian region. But the announcement was tainted by the company’s share price and financial woes.

“After seven years as CEO and with the commencement of production at the Company’s GLNG project now imminent, the Board and David have agreed that it is an appropriate time to institute a succession of leadership,” Mr Coates said at the time.

“We are undertaking a thorough strategic review of all options to restore and maximise shareholder value in the face of the continuing pressures on oil prices, globally. Given that we have announced a succession process for David, I will lead the process and can assure shareholders that we will be acting with the greatest possible speed to determine the best course of action, but we will not be taking any short cuts.”

It remains unknown where Knox will end up after leaving Santos. One would assume with so many years in the oil and gas industry, that is where he would stay. However, with such turbulence hitting the industry and threatening even the biggest players, such as Santos, it would come as no surprise if Knox opted to follow a more stable path and focus his energies on the world of botanic gardens and herbariums.

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